Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Coronation or coronary

The more that I think about it, the more I like my solution to the monarchy question.
So, here's an idea: let us make the monarch the guardian of the Constitution. The manrchy shall carry on as they are now—ambassadors and figureheads—but with this proviso: the monarch is required not to give Royal Assent to any law that contravenes those rights laid out in Magna Carta Libertatum and the Bill of Rights—and a modified Act of Settlement which will lay out the measures outlined below.

If the monarch should do so, they will trigger an immediate referendum after which, should they lose, the monarch will be dethroned and replaced with the next in line to the throne. At the same time, any Bills given Royal Assent in the current and previous Parliamentary session shall be declared null and void, must be re-presented and the whole saga gone through again.

That should provide adequate punishment for both monarch and Parliament for attempting to fuck over the people, and keep Parliament so tied up that they cannot do a fucking thing. And that can only be to the good.

Before I proceed with the rest of this post, however, my sparring partner in this particular joust has put up the first part of his retort, highlighting the fact that much of the Magna Carta Libertatum has been rendered irrelevent or been superceded. He is, of course, correct.

In a way, it hardly matters what we base our rights on, although I would say that Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights are good places to start: it is my (off-the-cuff) proposed mechanism for maintaining our freedoms that I like.
  • My solution provides the strengthened monarchy that I maintained might be a good brake on Parliament.

  • The only way in which the monarchy is strengthened is through binding them to protect the interests of the people.

  • The monarch is required to understand and pay attention to what they are signing.

  • The triggered referendum allows for the people to approve measures—such as liberty restrictions during wartime—to be passed.

  • The referendum also provides a mechanism to remove lazy or tyrannical monarchs.

  • The whole thing puts up massive barriers to the tyranny of the Parliament.

  • It provides a wonderful excuse for our Parliament to tell the EU to fuck the fuck off—"Terribly sorry, Mr Barroso, the monarch wouldn't pass it and you know that we can't bypass the monarch in the same way as we can bypass the people. Bummer, eh?"

What's not to like?

However, it is not just my dislike for tearing down functioning institutions on a point of principle—imposing your principles on others is not a libertarian thing to do; I propose tearing into Parliament because it isn't a functioning institution—that motivates me to retain the monarchy.

Nor is it the distaste when I see that latent class bigotry and fiscal envy that shines through the ideals of so much republican rhetoric—"We will abolish the Royals and give the land back to the people." Do we not now believe in property rights?—that makes me suspicious of their motives.

No, there is at least one positive advantage; especially if we are to leave the EU and make our own way in the world—a measure which any libertarian state must surely undertake. And what is that advantage? Quite simply, community.

We need to rebuild trust and relations with those in the Commonwealth who we sold down the river in 1972. Many of those in the Commonwealth retain the British monarch as head of state and there are some, such as the Australians, who have voted to do so.

To build a loose-knit community of countries which share similar values and ambitions, that are willing to help each other (without, as in the case of the EU, being coerced into doing so), we need a figurehead. The monarchy is already that figurehead and to remove it would be to remove what has bound us together for so many generations. As the Royal Mail found when it rebranded itself Consignia, it is far better to revitalise your brand than attempt to create a new one.

There is another issue: I see many bloggers on the Right, railing against the fact that "Lefties hate Britain" and "Lefties want to abandon British culture" and other such things. Were we libertarians to dash down the monarchy for the sake of our values, would we be any better than those who wish to erase British history for the sake of their own warped socialist values?

No, the retention of the monarchy, altered as described above, is desirable for practical, moral, constitutional and, yes, marketing reasons. To abandon it would be spiteful folly.

UPDATE: Freeborn John has posted the second part of his thesis. He looks at a radical 17th Century group known as the Levellers, ,who issued an Agreement of the People, an extended version of which "was promoted by John Lilburne who hoped to find a middle way between royal despotism and military dictatorship". It is a radical document (for the time) which calls for many of the things that we now take for granted and some that we still do not.
This radical tradition, which failed within a republican movement that was itself to fail, has been claimed by the left. That's actually reasonable. But it's also a reasonable claim for libertarians to make. At least, it is if those libertarians mistrust power and the people who are attracted to it and so seek term limits, if they hold every person to be equal, if they hold that the state and the law must always be subservient to the liberties of the individual so that, for example, nobody should be held without trial.

It's a radical tradition that we need to claim as libertarians. And it derives, fundamentally, from opposition to the idea of a monarch. After all, if every person is equal there can be no monarch.

All people are not equal and they never will be. All may have equal rights under the law, but that is something different and, since the law is a construct of human civilisation, we can permit ourselves to provide an exception which proves the rule.


Prodicus said...

Listen - can you hear me cheering over here? You defend the institution of monarchy for all the reasons I do. (But then I always thought you were thoroughly sound.)

There is something atavistic in me which relates all this back to the primitive acclamation of kings, and that sits well with my 'tribal' theory of political development, nationhood and constitutions. And I especially like the monarch's contract with the people being what triggers our government's telling Barroso & ff to fuck off.

All round excellent. Yessir.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! I love this proposal.

Auntie Flo'

Peter Risdon said...

Part 2, Parliament and the radical tradition

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

I was hoping for a post on chicken.

patrick said...

Whilst it will be entertaining to watch this joust, providing that you stick to a utilitarian line and your opponent to a natural rights based argument, you will win this battle.

The believer in natural rights is like a bear in a cage, whilst the utilitarian is like a man with a stick, poking through the bars. The man has the obvious advantage, being able to change his position at will, and always being able to keep out of the reach of the bear.

The watching crowd may enjoy the spectacle for a while, but, eventually, the man may notice mutterings from them - "It's not fair", "It's immoral" - before they leave the scene.

The kicker is that no matter how much the man points out that he has bested the bear, his protestations fall on deaf ears. Nobody thinks that bear-baiting is much fun, nowadays; and having seen how the man treated the bear, the crowd are justifiably concerned about he will treat them, in the future.

Devil's Kitchen said...

No, Patrick; the believer in natural rights is like a cowed and ineffectual teacher in a room full of unruly and vicious children, shouting vainly that they "promised faithfully to behave".

The utilitarian is the headmaster who comes in to settle them down and stop them beating the shit out of the small boy in the corner.

But, fundamentally, there are no "rights" in nature; only the ability to survive, usually by force. "Rights" are a construct of human civilisation.

Believers in "natural rights" are just people -- usually god-botherers who believe that their sky-fairy gave humans something quintessentially special -- who don't understand history, sociology or biology.


rasputin said...

All this might have some credence if the Royal Family in waiting wasn't made up of shirt-lifters,crackheads and free-loaders.

Royalty always collapses when it becomes self-indulgent and out of touch with reality. As for "natural rights" and "sky-fairies", it was Charles I's belief in divine rights that got him in a bit of bother.

Along with the rest of this country The Monarcy has become third rate and it is as tatty as the beefeater souvenirs in Piccadilly and as decadent as the bum boys who mince down it.

The Remittance Man said...

Perhaps we should note that although the Levellers preached equality and brother love for all, they did so in the same way the Bolsheviks did.

They were extremely intolerant types, both socially and theologically, who would have imposed their own brand of puritan-communism on the people by force.

Had they succeeded it is highly likely that their intolerance would have strangled the Enlightenment at birth and left this country in the same sort of dark ages that we see in other countries that pursue strictly religious dogmas.

Peter Risdon said...

I'm not arguing that Magna Carta is irrelevant, quite the opposite in fact. If that wasn't plain from my first post it will be from my last in this series.

RM, the Levellers didn't preach socialist style equality at all. This is a misunderstanding. They didn't call themselves Levellers, at first, and when the term was applied to them initially, as an insult, Lilburne and others rushed out a pamphlet from the Tower where they were imprisoned, disclaiming the title. This is why the Diggers called themselves "The True Levellers".

Puritans were pretty intolerant, that's true. But since many of them went to America and we can see what sort of society they produced, it's hard to sustain your argument, I'd have thought.

I use the term "rights" for convenience. I don't think there are any rights at all, rather there is autonomy. I've even posted about this. So I'm not a natural rights advoicate. Lots of misunderstandings here, I had hoped my posts were clearer than they seem to have been.

patrick said...

Ideological arguments often leave the neutral observer cold - who cares about how many angels can dance on the head of any particular pin? However, as our dear Devil attempts to clothe himself in libertarian garb, battle must be met. My earlier comment that you cannot win a battle over policy with a utilitarian stands; what I'd like to challenge is DK's utilitarian stance, rather than any specific policy pronouncement that may follow from that stance.

As I hope that DK is aware, a libertarian will the use the term 'natural rights' as shorthand for a concept that is fundamentally different from how the general populace would understand the term. Arguing as a member of public, I would agree with DK that "fundamentally, there are no 'rights' in nature; only the ability to survive, usually by force. 'Rights' are a construct of human civilisation". Absolutely no problem with this statement; but what matters is how we arrive at the constructs of ethics that guide our behaviour. DK continues "Believers in 'natural rights' are just people - usually god-botherers who believe that their sky-fairy gave humans something quintessentially special - who don't understand history, sociology or biology.". Applying the term 'natural rights' in a non-libertarian way, again, I'd agree. No robust system of ethics can be based on the illogical premise of divine grant, or simply because people 'feel' that something is 'right' - the emotivist stance.

What, then, does a libertarian mean by 'natural rights'? Fundamentally, he determines what rights man should have by looking at how man interacts with nature, which is the only logical way of approaching the issue. Quoting Rothbard again:

"Natural rights" is the cornerstone of a political philosophy which, in turn, is embedded in a greater structure of "natural law." Natural law theory rests on the insight that we live in a world of more than one - in fact, a vast number - of entities, and that each entity has distinct and specific properties, a distinct "nature," which can be investigated by man's reason, by his sense perception and mental faculties. Copper has a distinct nature and behaves in a certain way, and so do iron, salt, etc. The species man, therefore, has a specifiable nature, as does the world around him and the ways of interaction between them. To put it with undue brevity, the activity of each inorganic and organic entity is determined by its own nature and by the nature of the other entities with which it comes in contact. Specifically, while the behavior of plants and at least the lower animals is determined by their biological nature or perhaps by their "instincts," the nature of man is such that each individual person must, in order to act, choose his own ends and employ his own means in order to attain them. Possessing no automatic instincts, each man must learn about himself and the world, use his mind to select values, learn about cause and effect, and act purposively to maintain himself and advance his life. Since men can think, feel, evaluate, and act only as individuals, it becomes vitally necessary for each man's survival and prosperity that he be free to learn, choose, develop his faculties, and act upon his knowledge and values. This is the necessary path of human nature; to interfere with and cripple this process by using violence goes profoundly against what is necessary by man's nature for his life and prosperity. Violent interference with a man's learning and choices is therefore profoundly "antihuman"; it violates the natural law of man's needs.

[Note that Rothbard is using the term "violence" to denote any aggressive or coercive activity.]

Effectively, all libertarians use utility to determine what rights are natural. However, and where the natural rights libertarians and the utilitarian libertarians differ, is that the latter continues this analysis up the food chain, regardless of whether such utility violates rights already determined at an individual level. Rothbard adds a dramatic - obviously for effect, but logically consistent - example of where such utilitarian thinking can lead:

Suppose a society which fervently considers all redheads to be agents of the Devil and therefore to be executed whenever found. Let us further assume that only a small number of redheads exist in any generation - so few as to be statistically insignificant. The utilitarian-libertarian might well reason: "While the murder of isolated redheads is deplorable, the executions are small in number; the vast majority of the public, as non-redheads, achieves enormous psychic satisfaction from the public execution of redheads. The social cost is negligible, the social, psychic benefit to the rest of society is great; therefore, it is right and proper for society to execute the redheads." The natural-rights libertarian, overwhelmingly concerned as he is for the justice of the act, will react in horror and staunchly and unequivocally oppose the executions as totally unjustified murder and aggression upon nonaggressive persons. The consequence of stopping the murders depriving the bulk of society of great psychic pleasure would not influence such a libertarian, the "absolutist" libertarian, in the slightest. Dedicated to justice and to logical consistency, the natural-rights libertarian cheerfully admits to being "doctrinaire," to being, in short, an unabashed follower of his own doctrines.

So why should any of the above ideological debate matter, when we are discussing practical matters?

The answer is that what may be an appropriate mindset when dealing at the micro level - with family and friends - is inappropriate when at the macro level. Our relationship with the state, and all of its institutions, is fundamentally a coercive one. You can win friends around with argument and, if not, the consequences are not great. Failing to win an 'argument' with the state is liable to have far more dire consequences for the individual (try not paying your taxes, for example!).

The libertarian ethos lives and dies through its consistency of thought, and consistent application of principle. If we accept that the coercive nature of the state is anathema to libertarian principles, we must follow that presumption to its natural end - that the state is a violator of our rights. Unlike with friends or family, we do not have the power to voluntarily alter our relationship with the state; the position is black and white. However, a utilitarian will fail to see this stark contrast between black and white, as he is happy - when he decides it suits his ends - to join in with grey men that rule over us.

facktoetum said...

It's David Linley!

And that's a gagging order, so kneel and try not to gag.

Henry North London said...

Excellent Post DK